Or, just maybe, working in light-filled office made people happier and more productive, far happier than workers cramped in open-plan offices with every light turned on and screens blaring.
I considered the effect of light on office productivity after reading a recent Harvard Business Review.
A survey by US human resources advisory firm, Future Workplace, found employees craved access to natural light and outdoor views more than any office perk.
More than a third of respondents said they did not get enough natural light in their workplace and almost half said they felt tired or gloomy because of a lack of light.
What’s your view?
- Does your office have enough natural light?
- Does a lack of natural light at work affect your productivity and mood?
One should never make too much of a single survey or extrapolate findings from a sample (1,614 employees in this case) to all workers. Still, the effect of natural light on office design and worker productivity has not had as much debate as it deserves.
Readers of The Venture know I detest large open-plan offices. I worked in one the size of a football field for five years. Thankfully it was on the second floor. I’ve worked in others so high that the building noticeably swayed in the wind, making some colleagues feel sick.
Modern office design too often does a poor job with natural light. The brightest areas with the best views are usually kept for meeting rooms or oversized foyers, to impress clients. Or for executive offices. Staff are crammed in the middle where natural light is scarce.
The office tower itself limits natural light. The cafe where staff meet each other or clients is at the back of the building rather than outside it. The reception desk is pushed back in the foyer, meaning staff and clients meet in areas that require artificial lighting.
Not all office towers are like this. Newer ones I have visited have more meeting points outside and covered piazzas to create a sense of being outdoor at work.
Some offices have been reconfigured to give lower-level employees better access to natural light, or have light wells in the middle for staff who do not work near windows. Or improved windows to reflect glare, meaning less need for light-blocking internal shades.
More offices should follow. If the Future Workplace survey findings are correct, many employees would feel more happier – and thus more productive – if their office had better natural light.
Companies obsessed with boosting productivity should, literally, see the light.
I doubt enough will. Consider what’s ahead. City density means larger office towers competing for light.
These dark concrete forests become a stain on CBD areas because compliant local councils too eagerly accommodate property developers in the name of progress.
Notice how more towers in big cities seem to be set closer to footpaths, to maximise every inch of space. What happened to planning rules that require higher levels of towers to be set further back from the street and the first few levels, to allow light between buildings?
Corporate penny-pinching is another factor. Extra staff jammed into offices, under the guise of open-plan design or hot-desking, means more people working in darker areas. And more office workers competing for natural light, as crazy as that sounds.
Technology further blurs the issue. Wall-to-wall computer screens, TVs and mobile devices at work means artificial light and glare – and eye-strain for workers who do not manage their screen-time. How sad that some work in a poorly lit office with headphones on (to block excessive noise from open-plan offices) for 10 hours a day. No wonder their mood darkens.
I don’t know the answer to this issue. Reconfiguring office design, an obvious solution, is costly and not always possible. Choosing office towers with better light and outdoor meeting areas would help, although such places usually charge higher rents.
Encouraging staff to spend more time outside the office, particularly in winter, is another option. Longer lunchtimes (within reason), “walking meetings” for staff outside and client meetings in sunnier locations (where appropriate) would help. None are costly.
Perhaps the best strategy is raising awareness of the issue with staff and encouraging them to manage it. If the organisation has lots of staff working under artificial light for 10 to 12 hours daily, and eating lunch at their desk, its leaders need to do something about it.
I am doing just that. My home-based office does not have as much natural light as I would like, so I try to walk a lot while working, enjoying the sunshine and local parks and being more productive for it. I could and should work more outside, laptop in hand.
But when one works in a dark office for years, it becomes business as usual to turn a light on to work at 9am on a bright day. And rely on manufactured light and air in offices when the natural stuff is cheaper and healthier.
Tony Featherstone writes on Personal Finance specialising in Superannuation & SMSFs, Specialist Investments.